Hockey

As the Rockford IceHogs prepare to start the process of locking down a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs, it’s probably a good time to focus on the way the roster was reshaped over the past week. In case you missed it, the Blackhawks made a couple of trades.

This flurry of transactions was a two-prong effort between Chicago and Rockford. As was the case around the league, moves were made involving what amounted to swaps of AHL and NHL contracts. The get-around was using “future considerations”. This fleshed out what seemed to be one-sided trades at the NHL level with reciprocal AHL deals that got the players where everyone wanted them to go.

If you want to sort out all the moves, be my guest. I’m more concerned with the pieces that departed and arrived in Rockford when the trade deadline occurred. Here’s how things currently stand.

Out

NHL Contracts

G Dylan Wells-to Dallas

D Cooper Zech-to Rangers

AHL Contracts

D Adam Clendening-to Hartford

F Carson Gicewicz-to Rochester

In

NHL Contracts

D Andrew Welinski-from Rangers

F Pavel Gogolev-from Toronto

F Maxim Golod-from Anaheim (Hawks assigned Golod to the Indy Fuel)

G Anton Khudobin-from Dallas

AHL Contracts

F Rocco Grimaldi-from San Diego

F Logan Nijhoff-from San Diego (Hogs assigned Nijhoff to the Indy Fuel)

F Zach Jordan-from Hartford (Hogs assigned Jordan to the Indy Fuel)

F Colin Bilek-from Mantitoba (Hogs assigned Bilek to the Indy Fuel)

 

In Addition…

The Blackhawks assigned David Gust, Brett Seney, Issak Phillips, Lukas Reichel, and Joey Anderson (newly acquired from Toronto) to the IceHogs. Reichel and Anderson were paper moves that were pulled back to Chicago following the trade deadline, but both players are eligible to participate in the postseason for Rockford.

So…how did the Hogs make out?

Surprisingly well. Grimaldi is the type of player BMO fans should salivate over; a veteran AHL sniper who has produced in AHL stops in San Antonio, Portland, and Milwaukee. In San Diego this season, the 30-year-old Grimaldi had 27 goals and 29 helpers in 54 games.

Gogolev was responsible for Rockford’s only regulation goal in a 2-1 shootout win in Laval Saturday night, tipping in a shot by Welinski (4 G, 12 A in 40 games with Hartford).

Khudobin sure would have come in handy earlier this season. There was a need for a veteran goalie who could have played the role Arvid Soderblom was cast in due to injuries. With Soderblom now set to receive the bulk of the starts down the stretch and Jaxson Stauber playing well in a Hogs loss in Belleville Friday, the 36-year-old veteran still provides experienced insurance for Rockford.

As a result of the bevy of moves, the Hogs found themselves a little undermanned this past week. Rockford battled but lost 5-3 in Toronto on Wednesday and 4-1 Belleville on Friday before defeating the Rocket Saturday.

Seney and forward D.J. Busdeker left Friday’s contest with injuries. Busdeker returned for the third period. The following night, both players sat out, forcing the Hogs to play two defensemen, Nolan Valleau and Koletrane Wilson, at forward.

I would imaging that Gust, who was with his expecting wife, and Grimaldi will be in the lineup for Rockford this coming weekend, when the IceHogs finish their five-game road trip in Grand Rapids Friday and in Rosemont on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as they look to maintain and improve upon their playoff position.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs put together a successful weekend, rebounding from a Wednesday defeat in Grand Rapids to pick up four valuable standings points against a pair of tough Central Division opponents. Hopefully the Hogs remember how it felt to knock off Texas and Iowa, because that’s all the piglets will be seeing this week.

Rockford dropped a 5-4 decision to the Griffins on Wednesday before getting an outstanding performance from goalie Dylan Wells Friday night at the BMO Center. Wells kept the IceHogs in contention, stopping 37 Texas shots. This allowed Rockford to post a big 3-2 victory. Alex Vlasic scored the game-winner 45 seconds into Gus Macker Time. The rookie defenseman nabbed a loose puck and send a pass Lukas Reichel to start the rush, then skated to the left post. Reichel found the tape on the return pass and Vlasic finished off the Stars.

On Sunday afternoon, the IceHogs rode Dylan Sikura’s hat trick to a 5-3 win in DesMoines. The Wild threatened to tie the game in the waning minutes but Rockford prevailed despite being out shot 25-16. The win was the Hogs third straight over Iowa, giving Rockford a cushion of five points between the two teams in the Central Division standings.

Rockford is 25-17-4-4 through 50 games in the 2022-23 campaign with 58 standings points. The IceHogs trail Milwaukee and Texas, who share the Division lead, by six points.

This week, Rockford hosts the Stars on Wednesday night, then have a home-and-home weekend with Iowa. The action will be at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night before the teams return to the BMO Center for a Saturday showdown.

February comes to an end with some tough games. Things only get tougher in March, when the IceHogs begin with a five-game road trip to Toronto, Belleville, Laval, Grand Rapids, and Rosemont. It’s called the playoff push; Rockford is in for some heavy lifting over the next three weeks.

 

Friday Was Pride Night At The BMO. Observations?

  • For an event that was promoted by the organization, I was a bit surprised at how the Hogs came out for warmups. The players came out in their regular red sweaters. There were no patches, though the team handed out stickers which would have made a nice patch had they wanted to go in that direction.
  • I kind of figured that there would be some multi-colored tape on some of the sticks of the IceHogs skaters. That was not the case. The only stick with such adornment belonged to Hammy Hog. Hammy also made his rounds through the BMO stands with the Hogs pride logo sticker on his chest.
  • The IceHogs played a videotaped Pride Night intro featuring several of the players as well as coach Anders Sorensen. I know that I saw Brett Seney, David Gust, Cooper Zech, and Lukas Reichel in the video. There very likely were more players representing, but I wasn’t taking notes and AHL TV did not share the scoreboard view. Nor has any team media put it out on youtube or other social media as of yet.
  • Members of Madison Gay Hockey and Team Trans Ice Hockey were on hand at the puck drop. The teams scrimmaged at the BMO earlier in the afternoon. There was a video feature on the groups shown between periods. Pride Night merchandise was promoted throughout the evening.
  • Late in the second period, during the Kiss Cam feature at a media timeout, the in-house camera production staff put on a shot of a person in the stands holding up a sign reading “Except Ye Repent, Ye Shall Perish”. Live at the BMO, there was some booing and negative reaction to the sign.
  • If the sign-bearer had flipped off the camera instead, I doubt the production staff would have held the shot for six seconds. That’s how long the sign was visible on the big screen before they moved on to another kissing couple.
  • Speculation into the way this situation developed is just that. Who knows what the production staff was up to before or after the incident. Was the fan approached by team staff in any way? What is the IceHogs official word on what took place? We don’t know; the team has not offered any response as of Sunday night.

 

Roster News

On Tuesday, forwards Cole Guttman (16 G, 14 A) and Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A), along with defenseman Issak Phillips (4 G, 16 A), were recalled to the Blackhawks. For the IceHogs to have won two of three games minus some of their top performers says a lot about Rockford’s depth this season.

On Wednesday, forward Buddy Robinson (9 G, 9 A) made his return to the lineup after missing twelve games with a wrist fracture. Robinson posted an assist in the loss to Grand Rapids.

Sunday afternoon, defenseman Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) was knocked to the ice by Iowa’s Brandon Baddock early in the first period. He left the game shortly thereafter and did not return.

Missing Galvas and Phillips for an extended period puts a bit more pressure on Vlasic (2 G, 9 A) and Alec Regula (5 G, 14 A) to hold down the blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 4 A) broke an 18-game point drought with an assist on Wednesday and may see an increase of minutes.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs turned things around this past week. It took nearly the maximum of extra time, but the piglets got it done.

As the AHL goes on a short All-Star break, the Hogs snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday with a 3-2 shootout besting of Manitoba. Rockford then started what is now a three-game winning streak after a sweep of Iowa at the BMO this weekend.

Both games against the Wild took a similar path. The IceHogs fell behind early, trailed by a goal after two periods, found an equalizer to force Gus Macker Time, and rode marvelous play in net by Arvid Soderblom in the extra sessions to prevail by identical 3-2 scores.

Soderblom claimed the win in all three games this week, posting a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He faced and stopped six shootout attempts Tuesday and Friday; Soderblom’s encore was a sprawling glove save in the opening seconds of overtime, robbing Iowa’s Marco Rossi of a game-winning goal.

The Rockford offense has fallen off from the first three months of the season. The Hogs are still tenth in the league at 3.24 goals per game, but they have been in a number of tight games for the last couple of weeks. Five of Rockford’s last six games have gone past regulation. Soderblom has been the starter in goal for each of them.

For the first time this year, the IceHogs have been able to give Soderblom the workload I expected he’d get when the season began. He’s either been up in Chicago or injured; once Soderblom returned from a groin injury on January 20, he started seven of Rockford’s next eight games.

The organization allowed him some clinkers. This included giving up seven goals to Springfield in that first game back and five more before being pulled after two periods in Milwaukee on January 27. Sticking with Soderblom has paid off for sure.

The Blackhawks recalled Jaxson Stauber on Sunday ahead of Chicago next game on Tuesday. Stauber was impressive in his two prior starts in the NHL, though Soderblom would seem to be in the Hawks most immediate plans for the future. For now, it appears that they will leave him in Rockford to build on this past week’s performance.

 

Thoughts While The Goulash Simmers

  • The Hogs power play was 0-12 for the week before Brett Seney (18 G, 26 A) tipped in an Adam Clendening (3 G, 19 A) point blast midway through the third period Saturday night. All that did was tie the game. Rockford is currently at 18.1 percent efficiency when on the man advantage.
  • Rockford is near the bottom of the AHL in shorthanded goals, while giving up a league-leading ten. However, Jakub Galvas (2 G, 22 A) came up with the Hogs third shorty of the year, keeping them in Saturday’s game with Iowa.
  • The IceHogs have two point-per-game players on the roster, Seney (44 points in 43 games), and David Gust (45 points in 45 games). Lukas Reichel (15 G, 26 A), who tied Friday’s game with an impressive drive to the net in the third period, and Luke Philp (14 G, 17 A) are right there as well.
  • Reichel’s equalizer on Friday was impressive in that he had options to pass but chose to take the shot. Reichel had Dylan Sikura with him on the rush and Filip Roos trailing the play. However, Reichel was locked and loaded, going far-side on Wild goalie Drew McIntyre.
  • Forward Bobby Lynch made a rare 3-on-3 appearance and wound up potting the game-winner with just 15 seconds left in overtime. Lynch (4 G, 5 A in 39 games) has been a hard worker for Rockford and it was fun to see him get rewarded when Cole Guttman found him in the slot.
  • Hogs coach Anders Sorensen singled out his bottom six after Friday’s win. With captain Garret Mitchell out for the season, players like Lynch, Josiah Slavin, Mike Hardman, D.J. Busdeker, Carson Gicewicz, and Kale Howarth should continue to add a touch of grit to the mix.
  • Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) did not play in any of the three games this week. Since recording a goal and a helper against Hartford on December 17, Teply is sans points in his last 11 games.

 

Working For The Weekend

Rockford is back to the grind on Friday, with a home-and-home series with Milwaukee begins at UW-Panther Arena. The series comes to the BMO Center on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have hit a rough patch. As the piglets prepare for three games away from the BMO Center this week, there’s an issue for the team to address. It is a problem previously absent from Rockford’s list this season.

Namely, scoring goals.

The Hogs are currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak. Since beating Central Division-leading Texas in overtime January 3, Rockford has scuffled to a 1-5-1 mark. In those seven games, the IceHogs have just eleven goals. They haven’t scored more than two in any of those games.

This past week was particularly troubling, considering that Rockford was hosting three of the leagues worst teams in Grand Rapids, Springfield, and Chicago. The Griffins dropped four goals on the Hogs in the first four minutes of action, winning 5-2 on Wednesday night. On Friday, the Thunderbirds brought down the…uh…thunder, racing to a 2-0 advantage in the first ten minutes and crushing Rockford 7-2. Saturday, it was the Wolves turn to feast on the Hogs. Chicago, who led all the way, scored four times in the final frame en route to a 6-2 win.

Some lowlights:

  • The IceHogs went a combined one for fourteen on the power play in three games this week.
  • Rockford quickly found itself in a hole early in each of the games.
  • Dylan Wells gave up nine goals in his two appearances (he was pulled in favor of Mitchell Weeks 3:47 into Wednesday’s tilt). Arvid Soderblom, returning from a groin injury on Friday, showed plenty of rust, allowing all seven Springfield goals.
  • Soderblom, the Hawks “Goalie Of The Future”, has made six starts for Rockford this season. In those games, he is 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .837 save percentage.

Now, let’s not pile blame on the Rockford goalies. Wells and Soderblom had plenty of help.

When the Hogs offense is firing on all cylinders, they play a fast-paced game that keeps opponents on their heels. If the pace slows and the passing suffers, as it has during this recent stretch, there are a lot of holes that open up in the defensive zone.

Both goalies were bombarded with waves of enemy skaters exploiting those holes, jumping on turnovers and getting Wells and Soderblom out of position trying to defend the resulting rush. The losing has been a true team effort; no one has been especially good.

Lukas Reichel was up with the Hawks for a spell, which didn’t help at the offensive end. In four games back since his last cup of coffee in Chicago, Reichel has just a single assist. He skated with Dylan Sikura and Cole Guttman on Friday and had no more scoring luck than he did the following night with Mike Hardman and Michal Teply. Which is to say none.

Rockford is in its worst stretch since opening the season 1-3 with three straight defeats. It happens. It happened against three very beatable teams this week, but the Hogs are playing opponents, not records.

The IceHogs (20-15-2-2, 44 points) sit in third place in the Central Division standings. They’re three points behind Milwaukee and just a point ahead of Manitoba and Iowa.

The piglets will attempt to right the ship on the road this week. They will have to start in an arena (Wells Fargo) in which they lost twice to the Wild on January 7 and 8 to start this current funk. After taking on Iowa on Tuesday, Rockford visits Milwaukee on Friday before a stop in Rosemont to tangle with the Wolves.

 

Roster Happenings

IceHogs captain Garrett Mitchell was taken down in the offensive zone midway through the second period by Griffins defenseman Simon Edvinsson Wednesday. Both skaters slid hard into the half-boards, after which Mitchell rose and skated off to the locker room holding his right arm.

Mitchell did not return to action. No update as of yet, but Mitchell, who missed a month with a shoulder injury earlier this season, could be looking at another stretch on the shelf. He was a scratch for both games this weekend. It has been a tough campaign for Mitchell, who is pointless in 24 games in 2022-23.

On Monday, the Chicago Blackhawks recalled goalie Jaxson Stauber, who played so well in his NHL debut Saturday. On Friday, Rockford did see the return of goalie Arvid Soderblom from a groin injury sustained on December 28. Unfortunately, he gave up all seven Thunderbirds goals in the loss.

Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A) has been out of the lineup since playing in Colorado on January 13. Again, no medical update has been released by the team. Last season, the IceHogs were consistently updating the status of injured players. This season, it’s largely been back to the usual guessing game.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

Hockey

This past weekend, the Rockford IceHogs wrapped up the first half of the season with a split of two games in Colorado. It has been a successful 2022-23 campaign so far, but we only have one-half of the picture.

How did things go in the season’s first half? How might things go as the piglets enter the final 36 games? Set your timer; I’m free-wheeling for sixty minutes with a thought or two.

With 36 games in the books, Rockford is 20-12-2-2. The IceHogs are 10-5-1-2 at the BMO Center and 10-7-1-0. They’ve avoided long skids; after losing three straight in beginning the season 1-3, the Hogs have not dropped consecutive regulation tilts.

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee for second place in the Central Division with 44 points. Texas has put together an impressive run in the last two months and pace the division with 50 points. Manitoba is fourth with 39 points, while Iowa is fifth with 38.

Despite scoring just three goals over the weekend, the IceHogs are ninth in the AHL in offense, scoring at a 3.44 goals per game clip. Rockford is giving up 3.11 goals per game, putting the Hogs in the middle of the pack defensively. The power play is 13th in the league at 19.9 percent. Rockford’s is killing penalties with 80.9 percent efficiency, good for 17th in the AHL.

In short, the piglets are getting plenty of goals to win regular-season games. The goaltending was very shaky in the first month of the season. However, it has improved over the last two months, despite Rockford having to dip into their ECHL depth for a good portion of that time.

Rockford’s top three scorers were selected to the Central Division squad in this year’s AHL All-Star Classic. Brett Seney (15 G, 24 A) David Gust (18 G, 20 A) and Lukas Reichel (14 G, 23 A) have dominated the IceHogs scoresheet, though they have had steady contributions from veterans like Luke Philp (13 G, 14 A), Dylan Sikura (9 G, 13 A), and Buddy Robinson (9 G, 8 A). Rookie Cole Guttman overcame a concussion that kept him out of most of the first month of the season and has 12 goals and 11 assists.

Issak Phillips was one of the best defenseman in the AHL until being recalled by the Blackhawks. Adam Clendening (2 G, 16 A) and Jakub Galvas (1 G, 17 A) currently lead the Hogs blueline in scoring.

It certainly isn’t the way the organization drew it up in terms of the Rockford crease, but the play in net has been solid after some early struggles. The two goalies tabbed for the Indy Fuel at the start of the season have led the way for the Hogs.

Dylan Wells was an emergency call-up to Chicago. After securing an NHL contract, Wells has returned to Rockford and put together his best season of his four-year pro career. He currently leads Rockford in games played (13) wins (eight), goals against average (2.63) and save percentage (.909). This, after giving up five goals in two periods in his IceHogs debut October 23.

Wells was red hot in December, with a 4-0-1 record, a 1.95 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. Despite this, he went over three weeks between an impressive 3-2 overtime win in Texas December 21 and Friday night’s impressive 2-1 overtime win in Colorado.

Mitchell Weeks has been nearly as good (5-2-3, 2.67 GAA, .908 save percentage) for Rockford. Good thing, because injuries and call-ups have kept the opening night tandem of Arvid Soderblom (1-3, 4.17 GAA, .862 save percentage) and Jaxson Stauber (6-4, 3.0 GAA, .896 save percentage) from steady work for the IceHogs through the first half.

Soderblom has been out with a groin injury, but should be returning to action soon. Once that happens, he’ll probably be getting a big workload, with Wells and Stauber (who was just reassigned to Rockford Saturday) likely splitting the backup starts. It’s hard to ignore the success Wells has had of late, though. He might have earned more consistent work in net until Soderblom gets into a groove.

 

Speculatin’ Time

  • Can the Hogs keep up their winning ways? Sure, so long as there isn’t an exodus to Chicago post-trade deadline. As long as the goalies play to the form of the last six weeks, Rockford should be able to stay in the division hunt.
  • Physical teams like Colorado and Iowa have proved to be a bit problematic for the IceHogs. Rockford is built on speed and may have to adjust as the postseason draws closer.
  • Might some more physical help be obtained in trade? Perhaps. However, bigger forwards like Mike Hardman (2 G, 10 A) and Michal Teply (5 G, 7 A) could also help internally by asserting themselves a bit more.

 

This Week

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night when Grand Rapids visits the BMO. The Hogs then host Springfield on Friday and the Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for news and thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs have played host to Iowa three times this season. They have led Iowa late in both games. They have allowed the Wild to tie each game in regulation and steal standings points from them.

Rockford was 1-1-1 this week, picking up some ground in the Central Division standings. Each game needed extra skating to decide the piglet’s fate. After prevailing 2-1 in a shootout Wednesday against Milwaukee, the IceHogs dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Wild Friday before losing 3-2 in overtime to Iowa Saturday night.

The two weekend games were near carbon copies. Rockford outshot the Wild, squandered lots of chances both at even strength and on the power play, and let Iowa hang around until they could finally figure out Mitchell Weeks on Friday and Dylan Wells on Saturday.

Both Rockford goalies played very well, particularly Weeks. The rookie stopped 32 shots and a pair of shootout attempts as his AHL record fell to 3-1-2. Weeks has a 2.75 GAA and a .915 save percentage in six appearances with the IceHogs. He’s also gone 8-2-1 for the Indy Fuel (3.00 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Back on November 6, Rockford led the Wild 4-2 with less than two minutes to play, only to let Iowa off the mat and win 5-4 in a shootout (Weeks was also in net for that loss). In all, the Hogs have given away three standings points in the three losses to the Wild, while handing Iowa six points.

Rockford (12-7-1-2) is in third place in the Central Division, with 27 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 31 points. Texas is second, with…wait for it…30 points.

Who is right behind the Hogs with 26 points? Iowa, who would be near the conference basement if not for the charitable piglets.

Rockford is back in action against…guess who? It sure would be great if the Hogs could get to DesMoines, convert on opportunities, and pick up a regulation win.

 

Games Aren’t All The Hogs Gave Away This Weekend

Saturday featured a hat giveaway as well as being the team’s annual Teddy Bear Toss. The hat was designed by Hogs forward Josiah Slavin, who picked up his first goal of the season on Friday. Fittingly, it came shorthanded, with Slavin pouncing on a rebound of Cole Guttman’s breakaway attempt.

 

Roster News

Lukas Reichel made a quick jump to Chicago Tuesday, playing for a short-handed Blackhawks club in New Jersey. The following day, Reichel returned to Rockford.

Reichel had a six-game point streak snapped this weekend, as he went scoreless in both games (though he did convert a shootout attempt Friday). In that six-game stretch, Reichel had five goals and five helpers. The Hawks prospect is now second on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists.

Sunday, Rockford recalled defenseman Cooper Zech from the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Zech, who was little used by the Hogs after being swapped for Evan Barratt earlier this season, has played well for the Fuel. In eight games, Zech had five goals and five assists in Indy.

 

Hmmmm…

  • Perhaps Zech is in Rockford because the Blackhawks want to recall one of the Hogs D-men. Issak Phillips, maybe? He’s easily been Rockford’s best and most consistent blueliner.
  • Garrett Mitchell has not been in the lineup since his November 19 injury in Rosemont. No word from the team on the nature of his injury (looked to be a separated left shoulder) or any possible return date.
  • Still no word as to a permanent on-air replacement for Joseph Zakrzewski, who is no longer working for the organization as of early November. A rotating crew of fill-ins have handled the broadcasts, while on-ice reporter Katie Florio has handled the media sessions.
  • Friday night, the IceHogs played as the “Screw City” IceHogs, a shout out to Rockford’s manufacturing history. The sweaters employed for this special night would make a great alternate look for Rockford in the future. Guttman’s wearing the uniform in the photo above.
  • Morgan Adams-Moisan, who had played in just two games and whose last appearance was November 16, was on the fourth line in both games against Iowa. If he was in the lineup to bang the Wild around and/or pick up a fighting major, he never really got the chance to do either of those things this weekend.
  • Reichel was sent to the ice after Wild forward Brandon Baddock caught him with a knee-on-knee hit near the end of the second period Saturday. Reichel was quick to get back on his skates and was not injured, but Baddock had to deal with the wrath of…Adam Clendening and Brett Seney, far from the typical enforcer types.
  • The 6’3″ Baddock was swiftly admonished by Clendening; the pair received matching roughing minors. Baddock was also called for kneeing, setting up a power play for the Hogs. Reichel could have put an exclamation point on the incident, but missed a wide open net from the right post a minute later.
  • Seney, who had a goal on Friday and an assist on Saturday, leads the Hogs in scoring with 28 points (11 G, 17 A). He’s on pace to eclipse last year’s career highs (17 G, 42 A) set with Toronto.
  • The 3,772 fans at the BMO Center tossed 4,839 stuffed animals onto the ice following Michal Teply’s put-back goal 5:11 into Saturday’s game. For a game with two promotions, the house was a little light. A good, not a great crowd for a Saturday night, but still above the team’s 3,379 average attendance this season.

This Week

After the aforementioned trip to Iowa Tuesday night, the IceHogs play host to a couple of Eastern Conference teams. The Toronto Marlies, who currently sit atop the Northern Division, come to the BMO Center Friday night. Hartford, who Rockford defeated back on December 3, is the opponent Saturday night.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for updates and thoughts on the IceHogs throughout the season.

 

Hockey

With goalie injuries continuing to plague the Chicago Blackhawks, it appears likely that their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, will feel the pinch on their roster for another couple of weeks. The organization is stretched thin and has been for a good portion of the 2022-23 campaign.

Fortunately, the goalies stepped up for the Hogs this weekend.

Rockford beat Springfield and Hartford to sweep a two-game eastern jaunt, getting solid play out of Dylan Wells Friday in Springfield and an outstanding performance from Jaxson Stauber against the Wolf Pack Saturday. Each gave up two goals in their starts, which is certainly good enough to make the IceHogs a very competitive team.

Stauber’s performance against a struggling Hartford team doesn’t scream “goalie win” upon a look at the box score. The Wolf Pack is the worst offensive team in the AHL even before their leading scorer, Jonny Brodzinski, was recalled by the Rangers on Saturday morning.

But it was. You had to have been there for full appreciation. In this case, it was from BMO South, watching from my basement.

Stauber was solid in the first two periods, stopping all 15 shots he faced as Rockford built a two-goal lead. Once the Hogs went up 3-0, they stopped defending and allowed Hartford full access to the crease. Stauber had another 15 shots to face, most of them of the high-danger variety and right on his doorstep.

When the smoke cleared, the Hogs rookie had surrendered two goals. The first was a three-man unencumbered rush down the ice by the Wolf Pack, just after Stauber had denied a two-man rush. The second came on a Brandon Scanlin blast in the final seconds after Rockford just left a loose puck dangling in front of their goalie.

Stauber’s 28-save night was the best performance by an IceHogs goalie this season, in terms of allowing his team to win a game that could easily have slipped away. Wells also was an asset Friday; his workload was not as heavy, but he made the key stops.

If Rockford is going to allow opponents to close the gap on its net, the goalies have to limit the damage, much like Arvid Soderblom was able to do last season in similar circumstances. Of course, Soderblom is now with the Blackhawks, as is Stauber, who was recalled on Sunday. Rockford’s opening-day goalie tandem is now Chicago’s goalie tandem for the moment.

Even average goaltending would be a boon to the IceHogs over the next couple of months. This weekend was a good example of solid play in net making Rockford a tough opponent for the other teams in the Central Division.

 

Finding The Mark

Cole Guttman continues to impress since returning from an October 15 concussion that kept him out of action for nearly a month. Guttman (5 G, 5 A) had goals in both games on the way to a three-point weekend. In five games over the last two weeks, he has four goals and three helpers.

Dylan Sikura (7 G, 7 A) has also begun to put up points. He’s currently on a five-game point streak, with five goals and four assists in that span. Also on a five-game point streak is Lukas Reichel (10 G, 13 A), who has put up four goals and five assists in those games.

 

Around The Net, Just Not In It

Mike Hardman (1 G, 8 A)has had his share of opportunities, but his last lighting of the lamp occurred on October 29 against Belleville. His goal drought hit ten games this weekend.

Josiah Slavin has played in all 19 of Rockford’s games this season, but is still looking for his first goal of the season. Slavin has been in a fourth-line checking role for much of the campaign. He did not register a shot this weekend; his opportunities have not been few and far between on the offensive end.

Another player looking to find the twine for the first time is rookie Louis Crevier, who has been been a steady third-pairing defenseman in the Hogs lineup. Crevier is sans points in his last nine games.

D. J. Busdeker missed the entire month of November and made his return this weekend. He skated in both games for the IceHogs without registering a point. Like Slavin, Busdeker has been cast in a more defensive role so far.

 

Recaps

Friday, December 2-Rockford 4, Springfield 2

Lukas Reichel put the Hogs ahead 1-0 with his ninth goal of the season. The power-play goal came late on a Matthew Kessel interference call and was set up by Dylan Sikura and Brett Seney. Reichel took a one-timer from the top of the right circle to beat Thunderbirds goalie Joel Hofer at 10:51 of the opening frame.

Early in the second, Cole Guttman won control of the puck behind the Springfield net. He managed to thread a pass to a waiting Buddy Robinson in the slot for a 2-0 Rockford advantage at the 4:54 mark.

Springfield closed the gap to 2-1 on a Greg Printz goal with 4:58 remaining in the second period. A couple of minutes later, however, the IceHogs struck power-play gold once again. Guttman took a pass from Reichel across the goal mouth and snuck it past Hofel with 2:17 to play in the period.

Springfield rallied for a goal with 1:17 left when Hogs goalie Dylan Wells left a rebound in front of the net. Nikita Alexandrov nudged the puck across the goal line, cutting Rockford’s lead to 3-2 at the second intermission.

Just 39 seconds into the third, David Gust took a pass from Brett Seney and skated to the right post. He centered to Luke Philp, who beat Hofel from the front of the net to make it 4-2 Hogs.

A Thunderbirds goal midway through the final frame was waved off on an offside call. Springfield had ample opportunity to get back into the game, but the IceHogs stopped them seven times on seven tries on the man advantage. Wells made a number of big stops among his 23 saves to pick up the win.

 

Saturday, December 3-Rockford 3, Hartford 2

Dylan Sikura made Hartford goalie Louis Domingue pay dearly for misplaying a Lukas Reichel dump-in behind his own net. The puck slid in front of the Wolf Pack net, where Sikura poked it into the cage 14:03 into the contest for a 1-0 Hogs advantage.

Rockford doubled that lead 6:14 into the second period. The scoring play started with Sikura skating behind the Hartford net and sending a pass to Adam Clendening along the boards, just inside the blue line. Clendening sent a long, cross-ice pass toward the right dot, where Cole Guttman sent a one-timer into the top corner of the net.

Early in the third, Lukas Reichel drove to the left post with the puck. He was denied by Domingue, but stayed with the play, taking the rebound around the Wolf Pack net and banking home the goal off of Domingue’s pads. Rockford went up 3-0 1:58 into the third period.

The Hogs soon had a power play to potentially go up four goals, but Hartford had other plans. Rockford turned over the puck with seconds remaining on the man advantage, leading to a Bobby Trevigno goal at 6:06 of the third.

The last ten minutes were an adventure, as Hartford pushed hard and threw 15 shots to the net. Stauber stopped 13 of those shots, many of which were open looks on Rockford turnovers. Brandon Scanlin got the Wolf Pack to within a goal with five seconds left with a blast from the slot, but the Hogs survived to post their second-strait win.

 

Back To The Central Division

Rockford has a three-game home stand this week, starting Wednesday night with Milwaukee. The piglets host Iowa for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for my thoughts on the IceHogs all season long.

 

 

Hockey

The Rockford IceHogs are just short of the quarter pole in the 2022-23 season. So far, the team has had little problem putting the puck in the net. Rockford is competing, though this is a team that should be able to find another gear in regards to challenging for a Central Division title.

With injuries forcing the IceHogs to use the latter half of their depth chart at goalie, Rockford has had to put up huge offensive numbers in order to win. Through 17 games, they have been able to supply the necessary goals to compete on a nightly basis.

I’ve been a broken record in my concerns for the goal-keeping. If Arvid Soderblom returns to the Hogs for a stretch and plays to form, it could push the piglets into that aforementioned gear. Here’s a closer look at the season through the first two months.

 

The Numbers So Far

This is how the 9-7-0-1 piglets are faring 17 games into their 72-game schedule:

The IceHogs sit right in the middle of the Central Division standings. That would be fourth place, with 19 points. Milwaukee leads the Central with 24 points, followed by Texas (22) and Manitoba (20).

Rockford is tied with Milwaukee atop the AHL in scoring with a 4.06 per game average. Defensively, the Hogs give up 3.59 goals per game, 26th in the league. They’re fourth in the league in shots (33.53) per game, and 26th (32.35) in shots allowed. The latter number is consistent with last year’s team.

The IceHogs are converting 23.2 percent of their power play opportunities, while snuffing out 77.3 percent of their opponent’s chances. Rockford has given up five shorthanded goals, tied for the worst in the league, while potting just one shorty themselves.

The Hogs have four players in the top 20 scorers in the AHL. Brett Seney (10 G, 13 A) is tied for third. David Gust (10 G, 12 A) is tied for fifth. Lukas Reichel (8 G, 11 A) is tied for tenth, while Luke Philp (11 G, 7 A) is tied for 13th. Philp leads the team with his eleven goals and is fourth in the AHL in that category.

Issak Phillips (2 G, 12 A) leads the league in skater rating (plus-16) and is tied for fifth in scoring among defensemen. Jakub Galvas (1 G, 11 A) is tied for 12th. Alex Vlasic (1 G, 5 A) leads AHL rookies with a plus-11 rating.

 

How Are Those Veteran Pickups Doing?

Go back a couple of paragraphs. They’re spanking fantastic.

The firm of Gust, Seney, and Philp have accounted for 31 goals and 36 assists in 17 games. That’s 45 percent of the IceHogs team goal total of 69. Can this be sustained? Probably not, but several players are starting to find the range.

Dylan Sikura (6 G, 5 A) had back-to-back two-goal games this weekend and could be poised for a December to remember. Buddy Robinson (4 G, 3 A) is chipping in and has been a threat around the net for most of the season so far.

Defenseman Adam Clendening has been a bit underwhelming, though he does have a goal and eight assists. Five of those apples have come on the power play. Clendening is a player who can be attacked in the defensive zone. Hence, his minus-14 rating, which is the lowest in the AHL at the moment. The Hogs didn’t sign Clendening to be a defensive stopper, but there is room for improvement.

 

What About The Kids?

Cole Guttman is starting to pick up some steam in his rookie season. Guttman missed almost a month of action after suffering a concussion on October 15. In eight games since returning to the lineup, he has three goals and four assists.

Phillips, Galvas, and Vlasic have been the backbone of the Hogs blueline. Rookie Louis Crevier (0 G, 2 A) has played 16 games and been a solid third-pairing defender. At 6’8″, Crevier moves pretty well and is adjusting to the pro game.

Michal Teply (3 G, 6 A) started the season slowly but is getting to the net a lot more. Like some other young prospects, Teply is having to compete for ice time. Hogs coach Anders Sorensen recently placed him on a line with Reichel, so his offensive production could soon take off.

 

Roster Happenings

Captain Garrett Mitchell was missing from the lineup for the past three games after injuring his shoulder in Rosemont on November 19. No announcement from the team; until that happens, I’d assume that Mitchell will be out for at least three or four weeks.

Buddy Robinson had a scare on Wednesday night, taking a hit from the Stars Rhett Gardner along the boards by the Rockford bench in the first period of action. Robinson was helped from the ice, unable to put weight on his right leg. He did not return to the game, but was in the lineup for both games against Milwaukee.

After a strong performance in net in Wednesday’s victory, Mitchell Weeks was returned to the ECHL’s Indy Fuel. Despite being Rockford’s top-performing goalie so far this season (3-1-1, 2.95 GAA, .909 save percentage), Weeks is the current odd man out because both Jaxson Stauber and Dylan Wells are on NHL contracts.

On Thursday, Ian Mitchell returned to the IceHogs from Chicago. He played in both games with the Admirals this weekend, picking up an assist on Friday night.

Friday saw D Cooper Zech being assigned to the Fuel. Since being swapped for Evan Barratt a month ago, Zech has been a healthy scratch in all but two games on October 29 and November 2. Zech was scoreless in both contests. Incidentally, since the trade, Barratt has played just two games in Lehigh Valley, with one assist.

 

Recaps

Wednesday, November 23-Rockford 7, Texas 2

Rockford chased Matthew Murray from the crease with three goals in the first 10:30 of action, cruising to a win over the visiting Stars.

The IceHogs wasted little time carrying the attack to Texas, converting on a turnover to take a lead they would never relinquish. Cole Guttman picked off a pass along the halfboards of the Stars zone, skated to the right dot, and sent an offering that beat Murray to the far side at 1:24 of the first period.

Guttman’s tally was quickly followed by a goal by Brett Seney at the 3:26 mark. Issak Phillips‘ strike from the right circle at 10:30 of the first ended Murray’s evening with three goals allowed on seven Rockford shots. The Texas net was filled by Anton Khudobin for the remainder of the game.

Down 3-0 entering the second stanza, Texas got on the board when Stars captain Curtis McKenzie redirected a Ben Gleason shot past Hogs goalie Mitchell Weeks at the 3:24 mark. Rockford quickly re-established the three-goal advantage at 4:56 when David Gust guided a loose puck into the Stars net for his ninth goal of the season.

Rockford limited Texas in the Hogs zone, breaking up centering attempts and effectively preventing a lot of traffic in front of Weeks. The Stars put on some pressure in the final twenty minutes, but Weeks stopped 15 of 16 shots in the third period. Only Alex Petrovic‘s shorthanded goal got past the Rockford rookie, while the Hogs lit the lamp three more times.

Seney’s second goal of the night midway through the third gave Rockford a 5-1 lead. After Petrovic cut the lead to 5-2, Luke Philp and Lukas Reichel got in on the scoring in the final minutes of action.

 

Friday, November 25-Rockford 6, Milwaukee 4

When the smoke cleared, the IceHogs stood tall in this Central Division track meet. Rockford broke the Admirals’ four-game winning streak with a come-from-behind victory.

Milwaukee took an early 2-1 lead on a pair of goals by Tommy Novak, sandwiched around a power-play tip-in by Rockford’s Cole Guttman. Bobby Lynch tied the game midway through the first period with a put-back of Carson Gicewicz‘s initial shot. However, Cole Schneider converted a power-play chance for the Admirals, who led 3-2 after 20 minutes.

There was no scoring in the second period, though the pace did not slow. Both teams dismantled rushes up and down the ice, contesting passes and checking hard at both ends. Milwaukee goalie Devin Cooley made 15 saves in the middle frame to keep his club in the lead.

At the other end, Hogs netminder Dylan Wells wasn’t as busy, stopping eight Milwaukee attempts. However, he might have made the two biggest saves of the night midway through the second.

Wells stood his tallest when Brett Seney was stripped of the puck at the Milwaukee blue line by Luke Evangelista. The Admirals forward streaked toward the Hogs’ net completely unchallenged. Wells denied the shot attempt, as well as Zach Sanford‘s follow-up shot to snuff out the scoring threat.

The IceHogs got power-play goals from Lukas Reichel and Dylan Sikura early in the third period, surging to a 4-3 lead. Schneider’s second goal on the man advantage pulled Milwaukee even at four 9:32 into the period before Rockford took over the game.

Seney, whose slashing infraction had led to the Admirals’ equalizer minutes before, skated to the high slot in time to take in a backhanded pass from behind the net by Alex Vlasic. Seney’s aim was true, and the Hogs led 5-4 on his tenth goal of the season at the 12:18 mark.

Wells sent a couple of Milwaukee shots away over the next few minutes, allowing Sikura the chance to put the game away with 3:04 remaining. Sikura maneuvered into the slot and sent a shot through some well-placed traffic to get it past Cooley and into Twinesville to close out a busy night of scoring.

Sikura’s two goals earned him First-Star honors. Reichel and Seney, each of whom had a goal and two helpers, were Second and Third Stars, respectively. Guttman (1 G, 1 A) could also claim a multi-point evening.

Wells recovered from a frustrating opening frame to stop 15 of Milwaukee’s last 16 shots on goal. He picked up his third win of the season with 24 saves on the night.

 

Saturday, November 26, Milwaukee 5, Rockford 3

The Admirals gained a measure of revenge on visiting Rockford at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena Saturday night, using a big third period to split the weekend home-and-home with the IceHogs.

Milwaukee wasted little time in building a lead. Egor Afanasyev pounced on a rebound in front of Hogs goalie Jaxson Stauber and flipped it into the basket 2:19 into the contest. The Admirals added tallies from Cole Schneider and Roland McKeown. Schneider attempted a centering pass to Tommy Novak in front of the Rockford net. Defenseman Adam Clendening denied the pass, but the puck came off his stick and into the goal at the 7:36 mark.

McKeown made it a 3-0 game at 10:22 of the first. Taking a pass from Kevin Gravel, McKeown launched it from the right point past Stauber, who was screened by Zach Sanford and Tommy Apap.

Midway into the opening period, the IceHogs were in a hole. Dylan Sikura started the digging for Rockford, jumping on loose pucks for a pair of goals in the last 3:53 of the first. Both were set up by defenseman Issak Phillips, who had three helpers on the night. The IceHogs were able to draw even with Milwaukee 7:04 into the second stanza when David Gust streaked to the right dot and went to the far post with his shot past Admirals goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Milwaukee regained the lead 3:18 into the third period. With Stauber way out of his net, Afanasyev skated around the Rockford cage and completed the wraparound attempt just ahead of the stick of Hogs defenseman Louis Crevier.

The Admirals lead became 5-3 after the IceHogs first penalty of the evening. Alec Regula was called for slashing 7:08 into the third period. At 8:47, Markus Nurmi , set up by Afanasyev, sent a shot over Stauber’s glove from the left circle. Rockford attempted to load up for another comeback, pulling Stauber in the final minutes for an extra skater, but Askarov kept the puck out of harm’s way for the remainder of the game.

Askarov finished with 23 saves for Milwaukee. The Admirals rookie is now 7-3 on the season with Saturday’s win. Stauber stopped 23 of 28 shots in a losing effort.

 

Head East

Rockford travels to Springfield (Friday) and Hartford (Saturday) this weekend.

Follow me @JonFromi on twitter for thoughts on the IceHogs as the season progresses.